A baleful pair of eyes staring at me from the sink made me jump as I sat on the loo. The large gecko continued to stare as I edged past him out of the door. Sneaking a look at him, I noted he had an ominnously spiked tail, part of which had obviously been lost somewhere. One of his feet was missing a toe. He was a decidedly manky-looking specimen. But as such he matched his surroundings perfectly. The bathroom was sizeable, although in a we-couldn't-afford-enough-fixtures-to-fill-it kind of way rather than a wow-how-spacious-and-roomy kind of way. Two further geckos appeared to live in it, alongside the chap in the sink; a tiny one who lived behind the waste pipe and a beast of a thing who tended to hang out on the ceiling beams above the leaky shower. There was a mysterious plughole - complete with plug - right in the middle of the badly-tiled floor. I could only assume, after careful examination of the curiously holey roof, that it was there to drain the bathroom when it rained.
When I tell people what I do for a living, they always remark on how lucky I am to travel the world for work, and how glamorous it must be jetting around from one place to another. Lucky? Most definitely. The 'glamorous' thing however I am beginning to take issue with.
Believe me, business travel is not the room-service-and-mini-bar-filled lark one expects it to be. In the past year alone, I have stayed in places where the only running water in the hotel (and I use that word in the very loosest of terms) could be found snaking its dangerous yet determined way through a live fuse-box. I have 'showered' crouched beneath a single cold tap mounted at waist-height uncomfortably near a toilet. I have been forced to share a room with a colleague in which you could see straight into the en suite bathroom via an enormous window in the middle of the room. I have been fed numerous peculiar things I did not order, and been marooned, gasping, for a week in a place which refused to serve alcohol. Things have mysteriously vanished and appeared in my hotel bedrooms, and I now no longer bat an eyelid when I am plunged into the unexpected blackness which signals a local power-failure or load-shedding exercise.
Right after I discovered my scaly lurker in the bathroom sink of this particular hotel room, I flopped exhausted into bed after a good 14 hours hard at work to discover a monstrous wasp with a seriously evil-looking sting had apparently died on my pillow. So much for the efficacy of the four rather raggedy mosquito nets that surrounded my enormous bed, suspended from the crack-covered ceiling by a couple of pieces of ancient rusty wire.
Arriving at this particular hotel in Tanzania in the middle of the night I had made a careful examination of the room out of which I would be spending the next 6 days living and working. Besides the reptilian colony in the bathroom, I was joined by a couple of pieces of terrifying artwork; a painting of a leopard by an artist who must've been working from a still-life of a cuddly toy given the peculiar expression on the thing's face, and a large plaster lady with an enormous nose and a large bowl of fruit, who protruded somewhat menacingly from the fireplace. There were three large wardrobes, two of which were empty and one of which contained 4 twisted metal coat hangers. There was a large TV (broken), two bedside lamps (both broken), and a ridiculously tiny kettle (without a plug, i.e. broken).
When travelling for work there are a few pretty crucial things you expect your hotel room to supply. One of these is some form of Internet connection. Unsurprisingly here, at Hotel Bathroom Safari, the wifi didn't quite seem to make it as far as my room. This was unsurprising not because the connection was poor but because my room was a good fifteen minute walk along a badly lit track from the main building. The bad lighting would have been less of a concern had the same track not been used as a sprint course for a set of speeding golf carts which guests could summon (if they didn't mind waiting for half an hour for them to arrive at their room) to transport them/their luggage up to the main hotel for dinner/to escape this godforsaken place. Merely making your way back to bed you were taking your life in your hands, up against careering golf carts and waspy bed-fellows.
Something else you can usually rely on your room providing - and critical for professional circumstances where you don't want to shamble into meetings looking rumpled and fresh off the plane - is an iron. On undertaking my quick room inventory I had not been entirely surprised to discover that such a thing was missing from my chamber. A quick call to housekeeping should rectify that matter I assumed, and indeed I was assured that a maid would bring an iron straight away. Playing it fast and loose with the term 'straight away', finally (and after a whole day and another chasing phone call) said iron was delivered. Its naked electrical flex would've made this iron a PAT-tester's wet-dream. Actually the electrical contents of my entire room would have kept them entertained for hours. I donned a pair of rubber flip-flops and braced myself for a shock or two as I plugged the thing in to the fizzling wall-sockets. Nothing happened. Of course the plug was peculiarly damaged so as to render the thing completely useless. I gave up, tossed the thing in a corner and spent the weekend frantically 'ironing' shirts with my hair-straighteners.
On my late arrival I had enquired at reception about the chance of a little room service supper. After much generally looking blank and shrugging I was informed that room service was not available during the conference, which was what had brought me here in the first place. "Too many guests", I was firmly told. This was very definitely a lie, as two nights later, after being forced to dine in a mosquito-y, cavernous dining hall that resembled an overgrown school cafeteria, I encountered a waiter delivering room service the many miles down my dodgy track. However on watching this chap bearing a large and completely uncovered tray of food through the insecty gloom, tramping through the grubby ditch that ran along the main track, I was sort of pleased I'd not been given this unhygienic catering option.
I left the staring gecko in the sink for several hours, and I hoped he'd have made himself scarce by the time I returned to the bathroom so I could at least brush my teeth without traumatising him. Yet as I tentatively peeked into the bathroom quite some time later I spied him still stretched out along the porcelain. A horrid thought struck me. I stole closer, trying to spot his little scaly chest moving up and down, or his shiny eyes blink. Nothing. With the aid of a biro I gently reached towards him and poked a leg. Nothing. Oh great. There is a dead gecko in my sink. I poked the poor thing into the metal bin with a sad, muffled clang. Fifteen minutes later a large chunk of the ceiling fell in, covering the desk and several stacks of work papers in dust and lumps of cement. Resignedly and entirely without surprise, I brushed the rubble off my work and laptop. I checked out shortly afterwards with joyous relief, dragging my dusty belongings behind me down the bumpy track, without pausing to wait for a hurtling golf-cart. This, my friends, is it...the glamour of business travel!